04 August 2009

Danish-American collaboration on synthetic biology

An ambitious Danish project included a groundbreaking collaboration with the American pioneers in Synthetic Biology - a new research field that could revolutionize sunlight's transformation into energy.

The first step in a new transatlantic collaboration was the Danish-American Workshop in Synthetic Biology at The Joint BioEnergy Institute and UC Berkeley July 23-25 2009. In attendance were more than 90 top Danish and American researchers who are examining ways to tailor tiny plant building blocks so they can be used in the production of sustainable energy.

Joint BioEnergy Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and UC Berkeley are leading in the emerging research on the crossroads of chemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology and they are looking to Denmark for collaboration partners.

- We want to collaborate with Denmark, because researchers there have managed to combine synthetic biology with nanotechnology in a way not seen elsewhere" says Dean of UC Berkeley's College of Engineering, Shankar Sastry in reference to the UNIK project at the University of Copenhagen, which is a brand new collaboration between the University's Nano-Science Center, Faculty of Health Sciences and Life Sciences Faculty.

Half a year ago the Danish Minister for Science Mr. Helge Sander provided 120 million DKK for the project from the new UNIK fund, the largest appropriation ever to interdisciplinary research efforts.

- I am proud that Denmark can match the world's leading researchers in the synthetic biology research area. An important framework for the Danish-California collaboration is a new research agreement between the U.S. and Denmark, which I expect to sign with the new U.S. ambassador to Denmark in the autumn of 2009. The agreement creates opportunities for support for increased cooperation in the future, says Helge Sander.

Researchers in both countries welcome the collaboration and point out the great potential:
- In biology, there seemed no better partner in the world than UC Berkeley. They have the resources to perform tests in very large scale, and we can contribute expertise on many of the processes, says Head of the UNIK Project, Professor of Nanotechnology and Materials Chemistry, Thomas Bjørnholm.

- In classic biology, we study the natural building blocks in plants. In synthetic biology, we take these blocks and place them into new contexts, which is where nanotechnology tools become essential, as they enable us to get right down to the single molecule level, said Jay T. Groves, associate professor in Chemistry at UC Berkeley.

- By doing collaborative research with the other world leaders in the field both sides can avoid making the same mistakes and we can reduce the risk of wasted Danish Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation research funds. With the climate challenges we face, the time is ripe to focus on synthetic biology," says chairman of the Strategic Research Council, Professor Peter Olesen.

This new research area is predicted to be an important engine for economic growth.
- From 1995 to 2002, information technology drove the economic boom. The next growth area will be within biochemistry with synthetic biology playing a decisive role. Commercially sustainable biofuels is just one of the possibilities this field can lead to said Shankar Sastry.

The next workshop within this area will likely be held in Denmark in 2010.
- We are looking forward to next year´s workshop. Here, we hope to see the results of this year's meeting in the form of the first joint Danish-Californian research in this groundbreaking research area says the Ministry for Science´s research and technology attaché Lars Beer Nielsen.

Contact Info:

Minister for Science Mr. Helge Sander can be contacted through the press officer Charlotte Holst on +45 2211 0200 or chhh@vtu.dk.

Thomas Bjørnholm, Professor of Nanotechnology & Materials Chemistry, Nano-Science Center, tb@nano.ku.dk, +45 35 32 18 35

Professor of Plant Biochemistry Birger Lindberg Møller, Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, The Faculty of Life Sciences, blm@life.ku.dk, +45 35 33 33 52

Research and technology attaché Lars Beer Nielsen, Innovation Center Denmark, Sillicon Valley lbn@innovationcenterdenmark.com, +1 650 353 8879

Professor and Dean Shankar Sastry, The College of Engineering, UC Berkeley, sastry@coe.berkeley.edu, +1 510 642 5771

Associate Professor Jay T. Groves, Dep. of Chemistry, UC Berkeley, jtgroves@lbl.gov, +1 510 666 3602